Arriving in Kathmandu on TG 319

The daily "Thai flights" on Thai Airways into Kathmandu from Bangkok have been a relaxing and exciting beginning to expeditions and adventures in Nepal over the years. I say relaxing because they are always begun on a new morning, on a day that begins in Asia, after an endless couple of days flying across the Pacific or through Europe.

A few hours in the Airport Hotel in Bangkok, a shower and a breakfast, the promise of being over the Kathmandu Valley by noon, gives one a fresh and immediate sense that the adventure is beginning. The travel drudgery is behind and the promise of days in Nepal is at hand, the adventure is finally happening. When the Thai Airlines Hostess hands you a hot terrycloth towel to wipe you face with as the plane is climbing above Thailand bound for Nepal you relax into being transferred to another world.

This morning I approached the departure lounge for Flight 319 with anticipation of who I might see that I know. On a given day this time of year TG 319 is the scene of many chance meetings of old Nepalese friends and climbers from around the world who happen to be returning to Kathmandu on the same day. It was clear as I walked into the lounge that the flight was as overbooked as it always is. There would no empty seats. In the crowd I quickly saw a familiar face, Rinzing Karma, "RK" Sherpa. Rinzing Karma: "The King of Lukla"Anyone who has passed through Lukla in the past 20 years will remember RK as "the King of Lukla", the Sherpa agent who has seen to the loading and unloading of thousands of flights into and out of the famous mountain airstrip that is the gateway to Everest. RK was returning from a summer spent in Colorado. I was surprised to learn that after all the years of tending to the cargo and passenger seats for expeditions, RK was returning from his first visit to the U.S.

The short flight north from Bangkok took us over thick lines of water, the rivers and canals of Bangladesh, the Bay of Bengal and north across India. Across the top of a thick layer of clouds Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and Kangenjunga stuck up high and prominent. It is amazing to fly at an elevation of 30,000 feet and be adjacent to mountains that are 28,000 and 29,000 feet. Later as we descended and broke through the clouds I heard gasps of surprise and delight as passengers on our plane saw the steep green hills, with their ridge top houses and terraced fields pop into view. We were in the Kathmandu Valley! After landing, the plane turned at the end of the tarmac to taxi back toward the terminal and the giant stupa of Boudhanath, the largest Buddhist temple in the valley came into view. It was clear that we were in another world.

I managed to get off the plane first and began walking toward the terminal. It looked as if someone very important must be on the plane, because there were TV cameras, dignitaries, and a crowd of very festive looking Nepalese waiting in a line before I entered Customs. I tried to be polite and discreet and slip around this scene, but realized after I had passed that the crowd was there to greet all the tourists arriving of TG 319 this day. Sept 27th had been proclaimed "World Tourism Day" in Nepal and we were being honored and welcomed by top government officials and the media. Everyone (except me who had slipped by the line) was presented with a Nepalese "Topi", or hat, a scarf and a garland of flowers. When I got inside the immigration hall there were Nepalese folk dancers and I saw a fellow in a Yeti costume making the rounds welcoming the tourists as they lined up for their visas.

Eric Shipton, Reinholt Messner and other famous climbers and explorers have indicated that they might have spotted signs of the Yeti in the Nepal Himalaya. I can report that one was definitely working for Nepalese Customs today.

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